The cult of Trump 

Nearly 40 years ago our country was introduced to two major phenomena centering around cults: namely, the Moonies and the Shiite Muslims. There were others, as well, and I soon became fascinated with the dynamics of cults and cult leaders (both religious and secular) in general — leading me to read a number of books and articles, some even written by those who had been deprogrammed after spending time in a cult.

Recent statements from President Trump have led me to go back and review some of these cult and cult leader characteristics, and a 2012 article in Psychology Today reminded me, unfortunately, of some uncanny comparisons between the prototypical cult leader and Trump. This was echoed recently by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who admitted, "It's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it?"

In general, a cult leader is charismatic, commands adoring fans or members and sets himself apart by demanding of his followers rules and restrictions that the cult leader dismisses as guides for his own way of life. The cult leader could require his followers to rid themselves of personal wealth and property, while he himself bathed in luxury. He would forbid drugs and sex, while indulging himself in these and in anything and anyone else he pleased.

While these characteristics may or may not specifically relate to our president, his base sees him as a strong leader protecting them and saving them, so that he is able to say and do things that might be the downfall for anyone else. It does not seem to matter if the statements are true or false (I recently heard that for Trump "truth is an option") — if they emanate from him, they must be true and operative.

The article in Psychology Today listed 50 characteristics of a cult leader, and I was amazed (and appalled) to discover that our president exhibited at least 80 percent of them. Without listing them all, here are some of the ones that I, at least, found the most interesting — and troubling:

• Requires excessive admiration from his followers.

• Has a sense of entitlement, expecting to be treated special at all times.

• Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.

• Is hypersensitive as to how he is seen by others.

• Anyone who criticizes him is "the enemy."

• When criticized, he tends to lash out not just with anger, but with rage.

• Habitually puts down others as inferior, as only he is superior.

• Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to the world's problems.

• Has "magical" answers or solutions to problems.

• Is frequently boastful of his accomplishments.

• Needs to be the center of attention.

• Conceals background or family (or tax returns?) that would disclose how plain and ordinary he is.

• Doesn't seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong nor does he apologize for his actions.

Lest we become callous to our "new normal," we need to keep these (and the other 37 characteristics) in mind. The Psychology Today article concludes this way: "When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits, then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically or financially."

Rabbi Eugene Levy led Congregation B'nai Israel in Little Rock from 1987 until 2011.


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